10 Board Books that Make Great Christmas Presents (for Kids 0-3)

10 Board Books to Give as Christmas Gifts

Do you need a Christmas gift for a young child? Here are some fun board book suggestions, most suitable for ages 0-3 that you can consider gifting this holiday! I’ve chosen some that are Christmas-themed and some that are not.

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1. Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes by America’s Test Kitchen

An adorable new board book for the littlest of foodies, from the creators of the most-watched cooking show, America’s Test Kitchen, and #1 New York Times bestselling kids cookbook, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. Help your little one experience the magic of baking without leaving the comfort of their own home.

“Today is a special day because we’re going to make something together!”

From gathering ingredients to pouring batter to swirling on frosting, little ones will experience the magic of baking cupcakes without leaving the comfort of their bedroom in this first kids baking book. Using an interactive storytelling style, Stir Crack Whisk Bake lets the tiniest chefs be in charge!

In the same vein of interactive books for toddlers including Don’t Push the Button and Tap the Magic Tree, kids can “magically” crack eggs or whisk ingredients together, simply with a swirl of their fingertips! Perfect for little ones who enjoy Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert and want a more interactive board book cooking experience.

2. Santa’s Workshop by Holly Berry-Byrd

It’s time for Christmas Cheer! Come explore the North Pole with your baby or toddler and see inside Santa’s workshop. Visit Mrs. Claus’s kitchen, with this adorable lift-a-flap board book. Simple sentences reinforce future language structure while grasping and lifting the sturdy flaps helps develop fine motor skills. Perfect for stocking stuffers, book exchanges, Christmas gifts and more!

Welcome to the world little one! Come explore Santa’s Workshop Lift-a-Flap board book filled with surprises Perfectly sized for little hands and fingers to open and close the flaps. 6 chunky and sturdy flaps are extra strong so your little one can open and close again and again Surprise and delight baby with bright artwork and special treats under each flap Collect all the books in the Babies Love series. From colors and animals, to first words and holidays, the Babies Love Chunky Lift-a-Flap series is a great introduction to reading with cheerful, contemporary, and whimsical illustrations and sturdy, easy-to-lift flaps.

Jamberry book cover

3. Jamberry by Bruce Degan

This bestselling classic features a berry-loving boy and an endearing rhyme-spouting bear. The fun wordplay and bright paintings with lots of details for young readers to explore make Jamberry a perennial favorite, and this board book edition is a great stocking stuffer.

A small boy and a big friendly bear embark on a berry-picking extravaganza, looking for blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Their fun adventure comes to a razzamatazz finale under a starberry sky.

From author-illustrator Bruce Degen, Jamberry is perfect for sharing. “With delightful, rich illustrations and zany wordplay, Jamberry is a must have book for any family with young children,” according to Children’s Books Guide.

4. Pete the Kitty’s Cozy Christmas Touch and Feel by James Dean and Kimberly Dean

In this Christmas touch-and-feel story, Pete the Kitty gets ready for the holidays! A fun Christmas present for the youngest Pete fans!

Pete the Kitty helps his mom decorate the Christmas tree, he enjoys a cup of hot cocoa outside, and even meets an unexpected jolly visitor at the end!

Toddlers will love celebrating Christmas with Pete the Kitty. Includes five festive touch and feel elements. 

5. There’s an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

HO, HO, HEY! There’s an ELF in YOUR Christmas book! Get ready for another lively, interactive read-aloud in the Who’s In Your Book series!

Do you have what it takes to make Santa’s Nice List? An elf is here to test you in this participatory read-aloud. Don’t let the elf trick you into being naughty! Just follow his instructions to sing a Christmas carol, clap, BURP… Hey, wait a second! Children will be delighted to join in on the holiday fun.

Bestselling author and musician Tom Fletcher, the creator of the successful West End show The Christmasaurus, has once again paired up with illustrator Greg Abbott to create a creature that readers will fall in love with—and want to play with—again and again!

I Am Otter book cover

6. I Am Otter by Sam Garton

The curious, charming, playful, and internet-famous Otter makes her picture book debut in I Am Otter by author-illustrator Sam Garton. Here’s what Otter has to say about her book: “Hi! I am Otter, and this is a book about me and my best friends, Otter Keeper and Teddy. And it’s about the fun and messy (and little bit scary) adventure we had one day when Otter Keeper was at work. I hope you like the story! (And if you don’t, it’s probably Teddy’s fault.)”

Otter’s utterly winning voice and Sam Garton’s classic yet fresh artwork combine to create a truly hilarious and unforgettable friendship story.

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7. Botany for Babies by Jonathan Litton

It’s never too early to get an A+ in botany! Here’s a fun new board book series that introduces a wide array of nonfiction subjects to babies and toddlers.

Welcome to Baby 101, where big subjects are tailored for little babies. Featuring simple words and bright and engaging illustrations, this introduction to botany includes information about trees, flowers, seeds, and much more. So don’t be late, because this is one class that babies won’t want to miss. Look for the surprise lift-the-flap ending!

Also available in the Baby 101 series: Anatomy for BabiesZoology for BabiesArchitecture for Babies.

8. Hello, Animals! by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Emily Bolam (Illustrator)

A charming introduction to 10 of baby’s best-loved animals, featuring high contrast black-and-white patterns and a glittering burst of colored foil. With first words to join in with, this stunning book will captivate sparkly little babies everywhere.

9. That’s Not My Reindeer by Fiona Watt

This delightful series of board books is aimed at very young children. The bright pictures, with their patches of different textures, are designed to develop sensory and language awareness. Babies and toddlers will love turning the pages and touching the feely patches.

10. Baby Unicorn: Finger Puppet Book by Victoria Yang

Follow Baby Unicorn as she explores her world:Baby Unicorn Finger Puppet Book invites the youngest readers to follow along with Baby Unicorn as she explores her world and her special healing powers. The simple, comforting story is easy to follow and the permanently attached soft finger puppet keeps little ones engaged. Start building a lifelong love of books at story time with Baby Unicorn.

• Perfect size for curious babies and toddlers to hold and manipulate
• Fun and interactive way to play and read
• Full of colorful, soothing illustrations by Victoria Ying


5 Trends in Picture Books I Do Not Like

Picture Book Trends I Don't Like

Picture books are true works of art! From beautiful illustrations to innovative formats, picture books constantly are reinventing the idea of what a book can be and do. But not all picture books are created equally. Here are a few trends in picture book publishing that I do not particularly enjoy.



Picture books written primarily in speech bubbles seem to be all the rage. While this technique can be done wonderfully, as in Mo Willems’ Piggie & Elephant books, other times, writing the story in dialogue does not seem to add much to the book. It just makes reading the picture book aloud more difficult as one must adopt different voices to differentiate the characters, or find some other way to make sure listeners can follow who is speaking and when.


Sarcastic and Rude Characters

This trend seems to be going along with the first one. The characters using speech bubbles often are rude or sarcastic. The intent is seemingly humor. However, I do not find rude people funny, and I certainly would not want to teach children that is is ever acceptable to make fun of others in order to get a laugh from an audience.

Ugly Pictures

This point is admittedly subjective, but it seems to me that so many current picture books have ugly, scratchy drawings for the illustrations. Do children like these? I would think many children enjoy more colorful illustrations and, well, prettier ones.


Books Geared Towards Adults

Board books and picture books that focus on historical or contemporary figures, scientific concepts, political movements, historical events, and classic works of literature are very in right now. However, the littlest readers do not have much context for these things, so they are not likely benefiting much from a biography where they lack historical background, or a satire where they do not know the book being satirized. These books are written for the caregivers, and not the children.

Longer Text

Longer picture books are, in part, because of the trend of writing books that are marketed towards adults and not children. Also, some picture books are longer because they are meant for older children and not toddlers. However, it seems to me that more and more of the new releases I peruse have an unusually large amount of text. I prefer shorter books, since not every child is going to sit still long enough to finish the lengthier stories.

Have you noticed any of these trends? What kinds of picture books do you like–or not like–to read?

Picture Book Review Reviews: Touch the Brightest Star; It’s So Quiet; Click, Clack, Good Night

Today I’m reviewing three picture books about night and going to bed!

Touch the Brightest Star by Christie Matheson


A companion to the popular and acclaimed Tap the Magic Tree! In this interactive bedtime story, touch, tap, blink, whisper, and more to make magic happen in the nighttime sky, from sunset to sunrise.

What happens while you’re sleeping? With lush, beautiful watercolors and cut-paper collage, Christie Matheson reveals the magic of the nighttime sky, using the same kinds of toddler-perfect interactive elements as her acclaimed Tap the Magic Tree. Wave good-bye to the sun, gently press the firefly, make a wish on a star, rub the owls on their heads, and . . . shhhh. No two readings of this book will be the same. That along with the gentle, soothing rhythm, makes Touch the Brightest Star a bedtime winner—no matter how many times you and your child read it.


I love Tap the Magic Tree, and Matheson taps into the same book magic in this story about the stars and animals that come out at night. I think the progression of the book is clearer in Tap the Magic Tree, as it follows the seasons, but Touch the Brightest Star does try to go from evening to deep night to morning, which is fun. The interactive elements are fun, and the art is lovely, of course.

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It’s So Quiet: A Not-Quite-Going-to-Bed Book by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tony Fucile (Illustrations)


A silly, noisy bedtime book that will have readers squealing, croaking, and laughing along before settling down for a quiet night’s sleep!

It’s time for bed, but one little mouse just can’t get to sleep—it’s TOO QUIET! However, the night is actually full of sounds, from the croak of the bullfrog to the howl of a coyote on a distant hill. As the rhythmic symphony of nighttime noises build in this rollicking read-aloud, the mouse starts to wonder whether he wouldn’t like a little MORE quiet.


It’s So Quiet is a charming book that highlights the sounds of night. Little Mouse starts thinking that the night is too quiet and he cannot possibly go to bed, until his mother tells him to listen. Readers get to ponder all the noises of the night, from nocturnal animals to the sounds one’s house makes to the sounds that other people make. This sounds relaxing, but the book repeats the sounds so the reader reads them louder and louder, making the book more exciting than one might actually think. Because of that, it probably won’t actually put young readers to bed, but it will probably amuse them!

The illustrations are cute, and I particularly liked looking at the factual expressions on Little Mouse.

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Click, Clack, Good Night by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (Illustrations)


From Caldecott Honor–winning and New York Times bestselling duo Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin comes a hilarious tale about Duck who can’t, just can’t, fall asleep.

It’s bedtime on the farm. The cows, sheep, and chickens are all tucked in and snoozing away. Except for…Duck. So Farmer Brown sings him a song…reads him a book…turns on the white noise machine…and even debates the day’s top stories. But Duck just won’t tuck!

Can Farmer Brown stay awake long enough to see Duck off to dreamland, or is a good night’s sleep just a dream?


This reminded me a bit of It’s So Quiet, as Duck ends up hearing a lot of distracting night sounds when he tries to go to bed, but I ultimately didn’t enjoy it as much. It’s not as fun as a read-aloud and not as fun as Click, Clack, Moon either. It functions pretty solidly as a book about a character trying to get to sleep and encountering some obstacles until he finds just the trick, but it’s not a standout book by any means, and I think it’s primary appeal is that it features the same animals as the very popular Click, Clack, Moo.


Natalie Portman’s Fables by Natalie Portman, Ill. by Janna Mattia

Natalie Portman's Fables Cover


Goodreads: Natalie Portman’s Fables
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020


Natalie Portman retells three classic tales, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.”

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Natalie Portman’s Fables is a welcome update to three classic stories: “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.” Portman writes these fables for a new generation not only by adding more female characters, but also by inserting some more contemporary morals, such as eating healthy and being good to the environment. However, despite good intentions and charming illustrations, Natalie Portman’s Fables ultimately falls flat due to the sometimes almost unreadable verse.

Rhyming couplets are difficult for anyone to write with skill, and, sadly, Portman does not show herself equal to the task in this book. She encounters common difficulties with the medium almost from the start, forcing rhymes by writing nonsense or adding in lines that do not flow naturally from the current information and plot points given to the reader. She also fails abysmally to keep any sense of meter for the entire book.

These fatal flaws are evident in the very opening of the first tale, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” where Portman begins by referring to a number of collected animals as “townsimals,” but then, two lines later, seems to refer to all the animals as “apes” as in, “They cheered to find out who was the greatest great ape,” for the sole purpose of rhyming with “grapes.” The verse does not improve from there, with the fable containing lines that vary erratically from 10 to 11 to 12 syllables.

Even when Portman keeps her syllable count consistent, however, the meter is sometimes off. Readers who hoped to have this book as a read-aloud for young children will be stymied by verses such as:

“Tortoise took her sweet time, but enjoyed every step.

When she passed the finish line, the townsimals wept.

‘We never thought a poor, burdened, old reptile

Could outpace a winner, mile after mile.””

“The Tortoise and the Hare” in Natalie Portman’s Fables

The sense of rhythm in lines such as these is so completely lacking, that one wonders how an editor could not have begged Portman to do some revision.

Aside from the excruciating verse, the book is charming enough. Readers will likely be delighted to see that Portman worked to make the fables more equal in gender representation. She also adds some morals of her own to the tales, showing the three little pigs to be poor homeowners, not only because they are too lazy to build a good home, but also because they are slovenly, addicted to junk food, and wasteful. Ultimately, however, the best part of the book may be the illustrations, which have a pleasing, old-fashioned feeling appropriate for the subject matter.

Natalie Portman’s Fables has a sound premise and could have been a defining book for today’s young readers, whose parents undoubtedly would have welcomed some more inclusive tales. Unfortunately, however, the verse is so poorly written that most probably will not want to read this book a second time.

3 Stars

How to Interpret Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)


Does Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree depict selfless love or an abusive relationship?

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How to Interpret The Giving Tree

You can read Krysta’s thoughts on interpreting The Giving Tree here.

The Giving Tree is read in elementary schools throughout the U.S. (possibly other countries, too?) as an example for students of selfless love. Teachers talk about how much the tree in the story gives the boy, who grows into a man and then an elderly man, and then encourage children to show this type of love and generosity. (A quick Google search for lesson plans on The Giving Tree, for example, brings up multiple web sites where teachers focus on “gift giving” as the main theme and ask their students to reflect on whom they would give a gift or to ponder that friendships sometimes include both getting and giving gifts and both are okay.) I have memories of one of my own teachers sharing such a lesson, holding up The Giving Tree as a charming and inspirational story about how kind the titular tree is and how we should also give gifts. As an adult…I can’t disagree with this interpretation more.

I’ve been skeptical of this rosy interpretation for years: The story is, quite frankly, about a tree who is kind to a boy, letting him climb and play and eat her apples, who grows into a man who apparently forgets all these kindnesses and just takes what he can from the tree, never giving anything in return. The tree is certainly selfless, but the man is selfish.

I reread The Giving Tree specifically to write this post, looking hard to see if I could find a way to read it as a happy story, but I could not. I thought, for instance, of reading the tree as a mother figure, one who is always happy to sacrifice for her child, to give him what he needs to succeed and be happy in his own life. But such an interpretation falls apart because the boy is never grateful, and he is never truly happy. He comes back to the tree to take more and more from her– apples to sell for money, her branches to build a house, her trunk to build a boat– until the tree is just a stump. And still the man is not satisfied. And still he goes back to the tree to ask for more.

Giving of yourself, sacrificing, helping others– these are admirable traits. But The Giving Tree definitely reads as if the tree is being taken advantage of. The boy has a good relationship with the tree; they play together and seem to get mutual enjoyment from being together. But once the boy grows up, he rarely visits the tree; the book states multiple times she is lonely. When he does come, he takes from her and never even utters a “thank you.” One is tempted to yell at the tree through the pages to just let it go; the boy/man doesn’t love her, and she doesn’t have to keep giving things to him that apparently never please him anyway.

I think there are a number of valid interpretations of the story. Some people think it is about a parent-child relationship, some about friendship, some about nature and the environment. I don’t think any of them are really positive stories, though, when the tree ends as a stump, and it’s ambiguous whether the man is finally happy or not.

What do you think?


10 Picture Books Perfect for Autumn

Looking for the perfect picture books to read this fall? Why not learn about growing apples, read about pumpkins, or discover the changes of the season? Below are ten titles we recommend for all things autumn!

How to Grow an Apple Pie by Beth Charles

How to Grow an Apple Pie

Sophie’s parents tell her she can make an apple pie when she turns six. But first the trees need to be pruned, the blossoms pollinated, and the apples picked. Will Sophie ever get to make her pie?

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In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes, Laura Dronzek

A quiet book that celebrates the sights and sounds of autumn along with woodland critters. Readers will be delighted by the bright illustrations.

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Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills

Duck and Goose look everywhere for a pumpkin, but will they find one?

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Leif and the Fall by Allison Sweet Grant, Adam Grant, Merrilee Liddiard

It’s autumn and time for the leaves to fall, but Leif is afraid. He and his friend try all sorts of ideas to stop his fall. But nothing seems to work. Can Leif make it safely to the ground?

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Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Tap the Magic Tree

This interactive picture book follows a tree through the seasons, having readers tap, shake, and blow the leaves, apples, and more!

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It’s a Pumpkin! by Wendy McClure, Kate Kronreif

It's a Pumpkin!

Field Mouse and Squirrel find something big, round, and orange in the middle of the road. What could it be? Everyone has a different idea. It turns out there’s a lot you can do with a pumpkin!

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Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, Anne Wilsdorf

Sophie gets a squash at the farmer’s market, but instead of letting her mom cook it, Sophie names it Bernice and carries it everywhere. But what happens when the squash starts to get a little squishy?

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

A young girl takes a walk and greets nature, noting the signs that summer is turning into autumn.

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Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, Tiphanie Beeke

Fletcher begins to worry when the leaves start to fall from his favorite tree. What is going on? Join Fletcher as he learns about autumn and welcomes winter.

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I Got the School Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, Frank Morrison

I Got the School Spirit

Autumn means it’s time for school again and, in this book, a young girl enthusiastically greets the new school year. The rhythmic text makes the book a great read-aloud.

10 Picture Books for Halloween

Looking for a not-too-spooky picture book to get you in the mood for Halloween? We recommend ten picture books featuring ghosts, witches, haunted houses, and more!

The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo! by Elaine Bickell, Raymond McGrath

Little Ghost goes out to give someone a scare, but she can’t find her BOO! She searches high and low throughout the night. Will she ever find it?

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Scaredy Snacks by Terry Border

Scaredy Snacks

Cheese Doodle, Pretzel, and Sprinkles  go to visit their new neighbor, Dr. Nutterstein. But will they make it back alive?

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Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Gustavo the ghost wants to make friends, but he’s too shy. To meet new monsters, he invites the neighborhood to his Day of the Dead violin concert. But what if no one shows up?

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She Wanted to Be Haunted by Marcus Ewert, Susie Ghahremani

She Wanted to Be Haunted

Clarissa is a cute, pink house, but she wants to be scary like her dad the haunted house, or her mom the witch’s hut. Clarissa keeps trying to be haunted, but all her plans just make her cuter. Will she ever get her wish?

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The Little Kitten by Nicola Killen

The Little Kitten

Ollie and her cat Pumpkin find a kitten on an autumn night. Trying to find the kitten’s home, however, Ollie loses her way. Will she ever get back to her own house and cat? Sure to delight with its cut-out illustrations and metallic accents.

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Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

Ghosts in the House

A young witch discovers her house is haunted. What will she do with all the ghosts? Read the book to find out! Readers will enjoy the distinctive black, white, and orange illustrations.

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I Love My Fangs! by Kelly Leigh Miller

I Love My Fangs!

Young Dracula loves his fangs! So he’s horrified when one falls out. He does everything he can think of to put it back in. Because how can a vampire only have one fang?

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The Ghosts Went Floating by Kim Norman, Jay Fleck

A counting book with ghosts based on “The Ants Went Marching.”

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Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, Peter Brown

Creepy Carrots

Jasper Rabbit loves eating carrots. Until the carrots start following him home. Will he ever be free of their menacing presence?

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Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, Peter Brown

Creepy Pair of Underwear

Jasper Rabbit is a big bunny now and he has a new pair of underwear to prove it. He’s definitely not afraid of it. Not even though it glows in the dark. And definitely not because it keeps coming back, no matter what he does to get rid of it.

A Classic Picture Book with Beautiful Illustrations (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)


Tell us about a classic picture book you love for the illustrations.

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The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres

I have never actually liked the story of Peter Rabbit. At best, it’s too obviously didactic with its lessons about listening to your mother and being a good little bunny (child), and at worst it’s pretty dark. Mrs. Rabbit flat out says that Mr. Rabbit “had an accident” in Mr. McGregor’s garden and “he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor!” This was nearly traumatizing to me as a young reader, but she throws it out so casually. Oh, don’t go into the garden next door–you might be murdered and eaten! I simply was not a big fan as a child, and rereading the story recently hasn’t suddenly made me think it’s the epitome of children’s literature.

However, my family had this Little Golden Book edition of the story when I was growing up, and the illustrations are adorable! I believe I read the book multiple times simply because the pictures are so cute, while also detailed and rather evocative. Just look at that plump fluffy bunny on the cover, wearing his stylish coat and shoes!

I loved looking at the pictures, and I still think they’re astounding. I still want to just pick up all the bunnies and hug them, and I still love looking at all the details in the background, like the mother mouse with her baby mice in a cradle or all the little furnishings in Peter’s home. I also love the expressions on Peter’s face during his adventures, the single tear on his face when he gets caught in a net in Mr. McGregor’s garden and his anguish when he’s lost and can’t find his way home. The story is often sad and dark, but the illustrator really works with that! You start to feel for Peter, even when he brought all his troubles on himself.

Beatrix Potter I can take or leave as an author in general, but I really do love Cyndy Szekeres’s illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit!


The Brontës: Children of the Moors by Mick Manning and Brita Granström

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
     And carried aloft on the winds of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
     Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

” Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day ” by Anne Brontë


Goodreads: The Brontes: Children of the Moors
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016


This picture book biography tells the story of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë’s lives from the perspective of Charlotte.

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Like many works focused on the Brontë siblings, this one is told from the perspective of Charlotte, who lived longest and thus not only published more, but was also able to influence her sisters’ reputations after their deaths. Additionally, she left behind a wealth of letters and diaries, allowing biographers to quote her directly. Attempts to uncover Anne’s interior life necessitate more conjecture. Even so, the work is a beautiful introduction to the lives and work of the Brontës, combining quotes, images, and biography to tell their story in an engrossing manner.

The format of The Brontës: Children of the Moors may aptly be described as busy. Each spread typically includes a two-page illustration (drawn on site, according to the end notes), along with a quote by Charlotte in one corner and more text expanding on Charlotte’s words in another. The result is that sometimes the text can seem repetitive; readers read again what Charlotte just said, but in more detail. Or it can seem hard to follow. Should one begin with Charlotte’s words, with the picture, perhaps with a side panel showcasing the flora or fauna of the moors? However, I think young readers will delight in the busyness, in always finding something new to find on the page, in having to work to put together text, quote, and image. It makes the reading experience feel, somehow, more active, more participatory.

Being written for children, the text does smoothly gloss over moments like Branwell’s adulterous relationship with his employer’s wife and his descent into addiction, as well as Charlotte’s unrequited love for her Belgian professor. Sometimes the moments are made to sound more tame (ex. Branwell “flirted”). Sometimes they are mentioned, but not really elaborated upon. Ultimately, the biography comes across as truthful, but age-appropriate.

The Brontës: Children of the Moors is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of the Brontë siblings. It packs a lot of information into a small amount of space, resulting in that rare picture book biography that feels complete, but also supremely readable. Definitely worth a look for any Brontë fans.

4 stars

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan


Goodreads: Finding Narnia
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: November 2019


Caroline McAlister follows Jack and Warnie Lewis from boyhood to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in this picture book biography.

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Finding Narnia proves a lackluster picture book biography, so focused on simplifying matters for children that it loses its heart in the process. Caroline McAlister seeks to move from Jack and Warnie’s boyhoods up to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but, rather than focusing on concrete details, attempts to write a thematic work tied together by the concept of Jack and Warnie’s differences, and Jack’s longing to find out “What if?” The result is that the book provides neither enough biographical meat to feel like real biography, nor enough emotional resonance to feel like inspirational. The biographical end note is more effective at bringing Jack to life than the picture book text.

Writing a picture book biography is no small feat, as a lifetime must be condensed into only a couple hundred words. Caroline McAlister attempts to do this by trying to give readers a “feeling” for who Jack and Warnie were instead of fitting in as many facts of possible. Jack likes stories. Warnie likes technology. Jack likes knights. Warnie like trains. Jack likes a world of talking animals. Warnie likes India in the real world. Unfortunately, it feels like this contrast (perhaps oversimplified for drama), comes sometimes at the expense of biographical fact. Moments like Mrs. Lewis’s death and WWI are glossed over, creating a lack of emotion in the book. A writer usually cannot dismiss WWI in three sentences and still have readers understand how such an event impacted the characters. Without this understanding, it is hard for readers to feel why Jack’s question of “What if?” was so important to him.

The ending of the book regrettably does nothing to leave the readers with a a lasting impact. Instead, it just tapers off into a vague summary of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in a bid to appeal to avid fans and the sense of wonder that Lewis’s world creates. Needless to say, this ending will probably be less meaningful to those discovering Lewis for the first time through the book. And it will probably confuse children expecting some sort of conclusive ending.

The illustrations in Finding Narnia are nice. They are serviceable. But they are not memorable and they do not save the book from feeling underwhelming. They are, however, apparently well-researched, based on the number of end notes provided to explain the details readers may have missed.

One begins to regret that all the research done for the book does not seem immediately obvious, due to McAlister’s struggle to write a successful picture book. She is far more engaging writing the lengthy biography at the end of the book and it seems clear that her love for C. S. Lewis would probably have been better used if she had written a book for older readers. Still, fans of the Inklings often tend to like things just because the Inklings are mentioned in them, and I suspect some fans will just be cheered to see any picture book featuring Jack and Warnie.

2 star review